Cancer - Gina G.


Five years ago, the road of 21-year-old Gina Grande’s life stretched before her. Born at Good Samaritan Hospital, she had grown up in San Jose and attended local schools. Gina lived at home, along with her twin, Jill, their parents and brothers. She was working as a beautician and studying communications at San Jose State University. Life was good. Then, cancer brought everything to a screeching halt.

Gina was at home on January 16, 2005, when the right side of her body went completely numb. At the Good Samaritan emergency room, doctors confirmed that this vibrant young woman was having a stroke. Tests revealed the stroke was caused by a hemorrhaging tumor in her brain. She began having seizures.

Gina was admitted to the intensive care unit and, after 10 agonizing days, her diagnosis was confirmed. She had a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. Besides the brain tumor, there was also a tumor in her lung.

“It had come on so fast,” recalls Gina’s mom. “We were all terrified and in shock.”

Oncologist James Cohen, M.D., Medical Director of the Cancer Program at Good Samaritan, gave Gina the news about her condition. The following day, he started treatment. For the next month, she had chemotherapy every six hours and daily physical therapy to help her recover from the debilitating effects of the stroke.

“I told Dr. Cohen: ‘Give it to me straight. Don’t sugar coat it and then go out and tell my family what’s really happening. I want to know.’ And, he was always true to his word,” remembers Gina.

One thing Gina focused on was that, three days after she got sick, her grandfather promised he’d buy her a Mercedes when she was well. Gina’s older brother hung a poster of the car on her hospital room wall, and nurses in the cancer care unit helped her decide the car should be red.

The odyssey of Gina’s cancer treatment continued over the next three and a half years. It included more hospitalizations, a grand mal seizure that seemingly wouldn’t end, a collapsed lung, whole brain radiation therapy, lung surgery and regular physical and occupational therapy sessions. She also followed a grueling schedule of intravenous chemotherapy with many unpleasant side effects. This was Gina’s life.

“Throughout that time, I never thought I wouldn’t beat this thing,” says Gina. “When I was being treated, I tried not to think about what was happening because I didn’t want to have the mind-set of being sick. I wanted to go in with positive thoughts.”

Last year, Gina got the news. Saying she was a “miracle,” Dr. Cohen told her the treatments were over and she was cured.

Today, Gina lives in her own apartment, continuing her studies and her work. Now, she has a new ambition - to share her experience with other cancer patients so they can find the strength that helped her.

And, when Gina has time, she takes her grandfather for rides in her bright red Mercedes.

“It makes me feel liberated,” she says.